Ben Lui Spitzenberg (pictured) has his maternal grandparents to thank for his commitment to embracing gagana Samoa.
It was them who taught Ben how to speak Samoan from age three, and who manifested the Samoan culture within him, Ben says.
“My grandfather held numerous chiefly titles and growing up I would accompany him to most village meetings,” he adds.
“Following my grandfather around, I got to see the culture and hear the language been spoken and it was at this point where I decided I would take my Fa'asamoa to another level (Fa'amatai ) of the Samoan language.”
The 19-year-old New Zealand-born Ben, who is of Samoan, Solomon Islands and German descent says he began to observe and listened very carefully to every word and phrase his grandfather and other chiefs spoke.
“Every day spent with my grandparents was a lesson…there are never enough words that can express how blessed and grateful I am to hold the most important treasure in Samoa, which is the language.”
Ben attended Sir Edmund Hillary Collegiate and has held numerous leadership roles throughout school, including Head Boy of Class in 2019.
He attends Ekalesia Fa'apotopotoga Kerisiano Samoa (EFKS) in Panmure, and was raised in Otara Auckland, New Zealand.
At the closing of Vaiaso o le Gagana Samoa - Samoa Language Week 2021, Ben was presented with a Tautua (Youth) Language Champion Honour at the inaugural Tautai o le Gagana Language Champion Honours.
This is the first year the Honours have been held as part of the Ministry for Pacific Peoples (MPP) Pacific Language Weeks series.
The awards recognise the many years people have invested into their language and culture, and into the vibrant Samoan community of Aotearoa.
Ben says to be recognised as the first ever Tautua Language Champion means the world to him.
“This award is for all the people who taught me the language, particularly my grandparents.
“If it were not for their effort and drive to manifest the Samoan language within me, I wouldn't have gotten to this far with my Fa'asamoa.
“This can also be a motivation and challenge to the youth out there to maintain our language, live and embrace our language because we are the future and we have the power in our hands to teach and sustain our language for future generations.”
Going forward, the second year Bachelor of Law and Bachelor of Arts student says he will continue to advocate for the Samoan language and speak it whenever possible.
"A leai se gagana, ua leai se aganu'u. A leai se aganu'u, ua po le nu'u - if there is no language, there will be no culture, and if there is no culture, there will be no identity.
“This is why we must maintain and preserve our language wherever it is possible.”
We are the future and it is our responsibility to ensure our language will continue to live on for many more generations to inherit, he says.